The communiqué from the Anglican Primates meeting in Tanzania is the beginning of the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it. While the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada are being accused of “innovation” in our acceptance of gay clergy and one openly gay bishop, the Primates themselves are engaged in putting forth many innovations themselves that will change the very nature of the Anglican Church.
First, and foremost, the Primates have arrogated unto themselves the power to say who is in the Communion and who is not. This was the privilege of Canterbury who issued the invitations to the Lambeth Conference which was the outward and visible sign of acceptance in the fellowship of worldwide Anglican churches. Canterbury seems to have abdicated this position. It is Canterbury and only Canterbury that can say who can say who is in “fellowship” with Canterbury.
Second, the Anglican Communion has been defined as a fellowship of independent national churches held together by history (i.e. being former parts of the British Empire) and “bonds of affection.” The Primates are seeking to define these “bonds of affection” in terms of theological dogmas enshrined in a so-called “Anglican Covenant” which will change the incarnational nature of the Anglican Church into a confessional church. Instead of seeing the incarnate Christ visibly and perhaps distinctly in the culture of the local church allowing for a variety of worship styles and practices, the Anglican Church will become a rigid structure demanding uniformity of practice and conformity of thought. This stands in stark and utter contrast to the ideal of Elizabeth I, who sought not to impose excessive dogmas on the English Church for the sake of peace.
Third, the logical following of the first two actions is the creation of the body of Primates as a “College of Cardinals” who will enforce the covenant, has the authority to regulate the ordination process, discipline bishops of any constituent national church and perhaps nominate the successor to Canterbury. This system may not seem much different to our sister churches in Africa and southern Asia to their own systems of governance, where authority runs in very bright lines down from the bishop. However, in the Episcopal Church, this system would run counter to our ideas of autonomy, lay participation and consent at every level of church governance and theological debate. Episcopalians and many others in this present Communion have no desire to reinstate the papacy, Italian or African.
Fourth, the Hermeneutics project of the Primates seeks to define the acceptable methods of scriptural interpretation. Scriptural interpretation has always been a small flotilla of boats and rafts flowing in the river of history and culture. Enshrining any number of these limits the ability of the Christian message to be heard in the various cultures of our global village over time. Also, Anglican authority has flowed from scripture, reason and tradition. Any attempts to define, refine and restrict how these operate will lead to the collapse of this authority.
In short, in the attempt to bring bright lines and clarity to a Church and fellowship that have been traditionally willing to hold opposites in tension, live in the mystery and pray, the primates are undoing Anglicanism itself. Anglicanism is not a faith; our faith is the Christian faith. Anglicanism is a way of holding the Christian faith in tension with itself and with the culture in which the faith is expressed. We are method and attitude more than doctrine. We are prayer and meditation more than a unified theology.
The historic Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral states the core values of the Anglican tradition. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the revealed word of God. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith, Baptism and Holy Eucharist are the two Sacraments, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him. And finally, the Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church. No Church of the Anglican Communion, has denied any of these values although there are disputes about how to interpret scripture and the primates’ actions endorsing jurisdictional interference calls into question both the authority of the episcopate and its ability to be locally adapted. Accordingly, there is no substance or grounding for any Church being exorcised from the fellowship.
The elevation of a dispute of biblical interpretation on sexuality to the level of dogma invites reexamination of other issues such as divorce, remarriage and polygamy that the primates, I suspect, would rather not revisit.
As far as the key demands of the Primates goes, the appointment of a Pastoral Council, irregardless of its constituents, is an affront to the autonomy of the Episcopal Church and has no authority in the Episcopal Church to negotiate any structures or authorize protocols or ensure the effectiveness of any procedure without the action of General Convention. It is the General Convention that is the authority in the Episcopal Church and not the Presiding Bishop.
The appointment of any so-called Primatial Vicar, without the election, consent, or the necessary constitutional changes required for such a post, by the General Convention is invalid.
Any pledges regarding the suitability of any candidates for holy orders and the episcopate must be enshrined in canonical changes at General Convention. The House of Bishops should eschew any hasty making of pledges.
In short, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada will soon be walking a separate path, but one that enshrines the spirit of Anglicanism and of the Gospel as we know it. May God have mercy on us and His Church.
The Rev. Jeffrey A. Douglas